U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, on a visit to Quonset Point in North Kingstown this week, announced that the federal government is seeking letters of interest from offshore wind developers for a major wind farm off the Rhode Island coast.
Surrounded by Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline as well as Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Salazar held aloft a map of the waters off Rhode Island at the press conference Wednesday morning, Aug. 17.
The map showed “about 285 square miles of federal lands and the outer continental shelf, which we believe are the best areas to be evaluated for offshore wind development,” Salazar said. “We are moving forward with a call for information to ask developers who are interested in developing offshore wind facilities in these areas to come forward and to give us their statements of interest.”
Letters should be submitted within the next 45 days. Developers will be evaluated for both financial and technical ability to move on the projects, Salazar said, and for successful applicants, a lease could be signed as early as next year.
No one yet knows whether the federal bid process will determine whether there is room for more than one developer in the site, which roughly occupies the area between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
Deepwater Wind, which is in the permitting stage for a smaller, demonstration project in state waters three miles south of Block Island, has already expressed interest in a larger, utility-scale project in the federal waters Salazar described. So has Massachusetts company Neptune Wind.
“It’s an exciting day for us and I think for the offshore wind industry in the U.S.,” said Paul Rich, chief development officer for Deepwater Wind. The event shows that offshore wind “is truly being taken seriously,” he said, “and I’m encouraged by that.”
Rich said Deepwater is ready to submit a bid as soon as the federal government formalizes the process, and says the company has already gathered much of the information needed when it submitted an unsolicited bid last December.
Rhode Island has created a Special Area Management Plan, an effort to locate offshore waters suitable for wind projects, which encompasses – but is bigger than – the area in question for this bid process. Deepwater took part in that process, as well as gathering its own information, Rich said. “We think we should be as qualified, if not more so, as anyone else that will compete in his process,” he said.
Deepwater’s December bid was for a 1,000-megawatt wind farm that would cover 270 miles of federal waters with 200 large turbines. The farm, about 14 miles east of Block Island, would be the biggest in the nation and cost about $5 billion to build.
The government has held one previous call for offshore wind development, off Delaware, which resulted in NRG Bluewater Wind winning a lease. That company recently ran into a road block when the town of Bethany Beach refused to let it run underground power cables through town land, according to delawareonline.com.
But the studies already done in Rhode Island, as well as an agreement between Rhode Island and Massachusetts that established areas where both states would like to see offshore wind power, leave this state well positioned to become an industry leader, Rich said.
“What we heard today was the secretary saying that Rhode Island has written the road map for marine special planning,” he said, “which the feds will probably try to replicate in other areas. I think it was significant as it really reinforces the notion that Rhode Island is leading the way not only in offshore wind projects, but in an industry that will develop here and across the Northeast.”
State politicians at the conference said they hope Quonset becomes a hub for wind turbine assembly, bringing jobs to a state that is dogged by high unemployment.
Deepwater CEO Bill Moore said in a statement today that a “large-scale wind farm in the deep waters south of Rhode Island Sound will deliver hundreds of jobs to southern New England, along with a clean, renewable source of energy.”
If Deepwater wins a bit, it says power generated at the farm would go to Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Long Island. It has also pledged to base its operations at Quonset, where it has more than 100 acres under lease option. The company’s statement today said that it is also exploring ports and other facilities in Massachusetts to compliment the Quonset base.
Salazar was on his second stop in a four-state swing through the Northeast. He was also highlighting the economic benefits behind outdoor recreation and conservation, with a meeting to discuss progress made on including portions of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, into the National Park System.
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